Beijing calls for resumption of talks for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 6) — Accusing the US of seeking to disrupt the negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the Chinese government is calling for the resumption of talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Under the current situation, China proposes that we remove all disturbances to restart as soon as possible the Code of Conduct consultation, and agree as early as possible on a set of rules for maintaining long-term peace and stability in the region,” Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told state-run Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the transcript on Thursday.

The Code of Conduct will determine actions that countries can take in disputed areas of the South China Sea where claimants, especially Beijing, have made aggressive moves for over three decades. The Philippines is country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations until 2022.

President Rodrigo Duterte in June said negotiations for a COC between the 10-member regional bloc and China were facing "real constraints in dealing with the deliverables" amid the coronavirus pandemic, but stressed that both parties were working “towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive" Code.

Critics have noted the slow progress in the talks due to resistance from China, which insists on its sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea despite a 2016 international arbitral ruling invalidating its sweeping claim.

On Wednesday, Wang hit what he described as “provocative actions” by the US in the global waterway.

“[T]he US keeps increasing and showing off its military presence in the South China Sea. In the first half of this year alone, the US sent military aircraft there more than 2,000 times,” he pointed out.

While the US does not claim any part of the South China Sea, it conducts freedom of navigation operations there and calls most of Beijing’s claims as “unlawful.”

The US Department of State issued a strongly-worded statement in July, supporting the Philippines and other Southeast Asian coastal states in protecting their exclusive economic zones in the contested waters and territory.

Wang said the US should adhere to its “longstanding commitment of not taking sides” in the dispute. Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan and ASEAN member states Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have competing claims in the resource-rich waters.

“The US is seeking to drive a wedge between China and ASEAN countries, and disrupt the consultation process of the Code of Conduct,” Wang charged.

“All regional countries should be vigilant, and prevent this region's hard-won peace and development from being sabotaged by the US,” he stressed.

He reiterated that disputes should be settled through dialogue, a stance shared by the Duterte government.

China lauded Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address last month where he pushed for an independent foreign policy and non-confrontational stance on the maritime dispute. But critics slammed Duterte’s statement that he could not go to war against China, pointing out that the government could assert the country’s sovereign rights without resorting to arms.